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Things that are Brown in October

I have been working hard on my Master’s thesis, which it turns out will be 9 weeks of lesson plans on creative writing.   After much research, I’m now on the “writing lesson plans,” portion. It’s been good for me to delve into the writer’s process again.  I think I know this stuff because I am a writer, but there is always more to learn (or sometimes to re-remember).

Two things that have struck me in my reading: one is that we know how important modeling can be for students in the classroom.  In order to have a writing classroom, you also have to be writing and sharing your work, suggests one of the books I’m reading.

I’m editing, but I’m not really writing.  I haven’t been in a while, because it feels rusty and wrong.  The stuff I write isn’t much good these days.  Although who knows how much of my writing was good before, I was just producing so much of it that plenty of good stuff came out with the bad…

On to the second thing.  Which stems from the old writing cliche that stories come like water from a faucet.  When you have turned on the faucet after a long time of disuse,  I found in a quote, you need to get all the rusty crap out of the line before good writing starts to flow again.  It takes a minute to get back into clear waters.

And so in the interest of clear waters, I’m doing some list making.  After all, it’s in a lesson plan I’ve made for 14 year olds.  What’s good for the goose and all…

This one is of Things that are Brown in October.  And other times too, some of them, but they are things that are around and that matter.

  1. The California Buckwheat in Caroline Park
  2. Starbucks bags
  3. The seat of Asher’s pants when he forgets to have careful feet at the park
  4. the fake trees in the Halloween village
  5. Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Coco powder
  6. plain wooden cars that go “around, faster and faster Mumma.”
  7. The wig of my Princess Leia costume
  8. The wooden box that holds a beloved cat’s ashes
  9. A cinnamon broom from Trader Joe’s
  10. Teabags in a canning jar
  11. The Sweet Pea Hedge that died in the summer heat
  12. Morla’s mulch
  13. Many kinds of Halloween candy
  14. The hills in the distance off the 210 freeway
  15. Brian’s hair
  16. McDonald’s hamburgers, even when the playplace is closed
  17. Bunnies with white tails that disappear into the buckwheat when a small boy speaks

 

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I’m Writing

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’ve kinda been avoiding writing.  I had a realization while in Maine that the book I’m writing that takes place in Maine needs MAJOR revisions to be right.  And I’ve been loathe to do it.  It just feels like difficult work, you know?

But I watched the Ursula K. LeGuin documentary on PBS, and was as inspired as I usually am by her work and life.  She was such a force of nature, and an empowering one as a mother of three who published genre-bending work when her children were small.  Also, it took her almost twenty years of writing stuff and submitting it before she broke into the profession.  It gives me hope.  She was doing difficult work with children.  I can do difficult work with children.

Which is to say that I’ve been writing a bunch the last few days.  The book is better than I remember it, but still needs plenty. I’ve been mostly pondering profluence.  It’s easy to write a pretty scene, to play with the language in a sentence and come up with something that sounds fun.  It’s not that hard to add concrete details that characterize a person, either.  I’m even getting passable at dialogue. But what IS hard is profluence.

“Explain what that means again,” Brian said when I started talking to him about it yesterday. Because right now the novel doesn’t have it.

Profluence is a fancy word for the sense you get in a novel that the novel is moving forward and progressing.  It’s a complicated combination of your trust for the author (do they seem to have a plan?), the pacing of the scenes, the way you’ve dropped foreshadowing in or not, even the way you’ve organized many scenes in a row.  It’s a separate thing from the plot and the prose, and it’s hard to get right.  Sometimes it’s even harder to figure out why your work doesn’t have it.

I’m going through that now, because I don’t really know what’s wrong.  The novel feels like someone is alternatively putting their foot on the gas and then letting the narrative slow before giving it another burst again.  Hot and cold, slow and fast, too much info and not enough, characters behaving unevenly.

We’ll see.  How do you fix this?  Just try stuff until something seems to help, I think.  That’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me in the past. I’ll be lengthening a few scenes and rearranging a few more.  And if that doesn’t help I can always put them back where they used to be, right?  (I can.  I save drafts like it’s my job).

Maybe people who are more experienced than I am don’t have these moments where they’re floating around in the dark and stabbing at things willy-nilly.  But I almost always get to a point in a novel where I am.

I’m not sure I had a real point to this post except to say that it feels right to be sitting down and letting the words flow again, to be weaving the threads of a story and pondering big theoretical writing concepts.

I guess I have Ursula K. LeGuin to thank for that.  As I have had so many times in the past.

The documentary really was great.  It’s on American Masters and you can get it online if you don’t have PBS as a channel.  Just saying.

 

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Some Time

I’m not often on my Blue Gentian page these days.  When I first published the book and when I first started running ads, I was on there almost every day.  But now that I have things (mostly) working the way I’d like them to, I tend to leave things be.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the page to find eight whole reviews, and a lot from people who don’t already know me!  They all seemed to like the book, too.  It was a nice little gift as I’m gearing up to start writing a little more.  I’m not optimistic that I’ll get the next book out before the new year, but I might give it a push to see if I can get close.

The baby is starting preschool on Monday.  He’s only going for two days, but that is sixteen whole hours of freedom each week.  I hardly know what to do with myself.  Hopefully I will be substitute teaching in short order, but getting hired for that is still in the works.

In the mean time, I have a list so long of what I want to get done in life that I think I’m going to have to prioritize.  There is no possible way I’m going to clean, redecorate, and organize the whole house while simultaneously getting a novel published and faffing off doing all the fun things I don’t get to do usually (like paint my nails, and binge watch terrible TV).  I have a list of Christmas presents I’d like to make, and crafts I want to do so I can hang them up around the house.  I have list of recipes to try that is epic. Seriously, my expectations are not realistic.

It feels a little like I’ve been handed myself back again (on a temporary basis, of course, maybe rented back to myself), and I’m not sure what I did before I was debilitated by pregnancy, and then structuring my entire life around a small and very adorable boy. I guess I’m about to find out.

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Student Teaching News

For those who have been following the Student Teaching saga, I have an update.

After much reflection, I pushed my university to offer me a different placement.  The university wasn’t sure they felt okay about offering me that option, since my relationship with my Supervisory Teacher had been so good previous to the unexpected tragedy.  They also let me know that English placements aren’t easy to find, and that even if they said they wanted to re-place me, there was no guarantee that a place could be found. I was persistent, though.

I just felt like it wouldn’t be in either of my Supervisory Teacher’s or my best interests to continue working together.  Although I can’t fully empathize and don’t want to pretend to, I do know that the death of a child is something you never get over.  It’s a little insensitive (and uncomfortable) to ask her to mentor me while she is so heavily and newly in the grieving process.  I also feel like I’m going to learn more from someone who has the mental space to be in the weeds of mundanety with me (lesson plans, classroom management, etc…) instead of wrapped up in the profound cycle that is life.  Lastly, my career is too important to let myself become the student teacher who acts as a distraction for my Supervisory Teacher’s grief, especially because this career is how I intend to spend the rest of my life (not that she has expressed that sentiment, but many others on the periphery have).

My university gave me the word earlier this week that, if I want, they will pull me from my placement and find another for me with a stipulation: I will join the next cohort of students and do 5 weeks and 10 weeks all over again, instead of doing 15 weeks at once as planned.

I’ve taken them up on it.

I was going to have a teaching credential in December and a Master’s degree in June, and this changes things a little bit.  I will now have both a Master’s degree and a teaching credential in June.  It’s a delay, but June is a better time to look for work as a teacher and I’ll be more qualified while I’m applying for things, since I’ll also have that Master’s degree to help me along.

Honestly, it’s a big relief.  The only thing I’m a little worried about is who I’ll be placed with next.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that it’s someone amazing.

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A Wardrobe Appreciation

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I didn’t post about it at the time, but my suitcase went missing into the nebulous ether that planes fly in on our trip back from Maine.  “We’ve found your suitcase!” the airline kept calling me to tell me, only to attempt to deliver a bag that wasn’t even close to mine.  Sigh. I’m still in rounds with them about settling for the value of my baggage.

The finances, with my income being all Student Loan since Asher arrived, are also strange.  We get financial aid in spurts, and there are tens of thousands in the bank that are supposed to last us six months or more.  By the end we are usually scraping a little… able to pay all the bills but not able to make any extra purchases.  Like a new wardrobe, for instance.

It wasn’t that big a deal, I didn’t think.  Yes, I had brought all the clothes I actually like to Maine.  Yes, I had lost all my fun book tees that solidified my status as a literary nerd.  But it wasn’t like I didn’t have stuff to wear.  I just didn’t have cute stuff to wear. I bought a bra, a pair of jeans, a few target t-shirts, and made due.  I felt frumpy, but I chalked that up to being a tired mom.

Brian’s financial aid came in this week and I was able to buy an actual wardrobe today. While I bought several shirts and another pair of jeans, I spent most of the money on stuff that no one would notice: tank tops, underwear, bras, pajama pants, slip shorts. I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER.  I feel like a complete person now.

I have never before appreciated the luxury that is being able to pull a tank top from the drawer to put underneath a low neckline.  I no longer have to choose between underwear that has holes and unraveling elastic or the ones that settle onto my c-section scar and rub all day.  I can wash my jeans without having to wear fancy dress pants as I wait for them to dry.  I have shorts to wear under the few skirts I still have in my drawer (chub rub is real, guys, and deodorant on the thighs only cuts it for so long).  I do not have to wear a bra that I have worn for five days in a row in 100+ heat.

Is this TMI?

In short I’m happier, less smelly, and infinitely cuter.

This is where I’m supposed to have some sort of witticism or Deep Thought about clothes and who we are.  But honestly, I’d rather just go enjoy my soft, soft pajama pants that have pockets.  Appreciate your clothes, guys.  I know I’m going to, simple as they are.

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Thunderstorms

I had a little time to do some actual writing in Maine while I was there. It felt good to exercise those muscles again.  And it also led to the writing of some vignettes, like the one here.

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A Maine thunderstorm is not like a thunderstorm in California.  In California, the gray clouds gather for hours before they begin to weep a misty drizzle that eventually might turn to more persistent streams.  The booming clouds are loud but faithless.  They roar a couple of times and then they turn back to the drizzle they were born of.

In Maine, a thunderstorm comes in.  The gray fluffy clouds roll across the blue, blue sky, groaning in warning.  In a matter of minutes the sky is all cloud, the wind chimes ring out their warning peal, the rain falls in a sheet.  The booms seem to echo in the sky around you, and the lights of the house flicker.  Sometimes the house lights go out and you are left grappling for your flashlight.  The clouds continue their persistent roll and roar even after the rain has passed.  A Maine thunderstorm means it.

I sat in the living room of my mom’s cottage with my husband and watched the storm come in over the ocean today, wondering if it would wake up my napping son in the room above.  And in the way of children and mothers, it pulled me into a different memory.

It was surely not my first thunderstorm in Maine. I have been a slightly legitimized summer person since I was born (since many of my family lives here full time). But it’s the first storm I really remember.  We were staying in the big cottage, the one Grampy’s father made for his mother (as opposed to the tiny cottage that Grampy himself had built – maybe 600 square feet?)  The black “Juanita” sign still hung in the living room in the big cottage amid the iron stove, the rag rugs, and the furniture from the 1970s with holes in all the upholstery, stuffing flying free – deftly covered by Juanita’s granny square afghans of many colors.  We were serviceable at the beach.  Despite the bucket of clean water at the door to wash your feet as you came in, there was a fine patina of sand on everything.

I slept next to my sister Cody under the eaves in a bedroom upstairs, white lace curtains at the window.  The noise woke me up and  I was frightened, but too old to admit it.  I couldn’t remember a storm that loud, even though I remembered Maine thunderstorms. My mother was up too.

“Case, can you help me close the windows?” she asked, flitting from room to room.  The sheet of rain had already started, and the window sill in the hall was already wet.  I shoved the pane down, and moved downstairs to the next.  A peal of thunder shook the house.

It took forever for the two of us to manage the window on the stairwell, too high to grip tight and slippery because of the rain.  But finally my mother managed it.  I was still scared, though the purpose of the moment had turned my adrenaline to excited.

“We did it,” said my mother as we turned to each other.  Another peal, and when the house shook I also shook.

“Mumma!” Cody called from the bedroom upstairs.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to sleep tonight,” said my mother.  “Have you ever watched a storm over the ocean?”

I shook my head.

She climbed the stairs to get Cody.  “Grab a blanket, and we’ll all watch together.”

We settled in on the couch, Cody on one side of my mom’s lap and me on the other, tucked under one of Juanita’s afghans.  My mom had pulled the couch over so the big picture windows were perfectly in front of us, like a TV.  The lightening danced over the dark waves of the ocean, sparking the clouds in purple and forking down to the water.  No two zig-zags alike.  The thunder shook us at intervals and it seemed like it all must be right on top of us.  Cozied in like that I felt safer, though.

“How far away is it?”  I asked.

“Count,” said my mother.  So my sister and I counted one-mississippis between light and sound,  and my mother did the math.

“About a mile away,” she said.

It felt more present than that.

“Could the lightening ever strike here?  Would it strike the rocks?”

“I don’t think it will tonight.  It’s very rare, but it could.  It has.”

“It has?”

“Yes, you know the hollow on the rock you were pretending to make seaweed stew in the other day?”

I nodded.  The rock was a larger than the footprint of the small cottage, an almost perfect 30-degree angle of dusky, weather-beaten granite that dipped toward the shore, ending in a collection of smaller rocks that created tidepools when the tide was out. At the top left of this rock was a perfectly round indentation, like a black melamine bowl.  This room was always our kitchen when we played house, because it already had a sink.

“That wasn’t there when I was a girl.  Lightning struck the rock, and created the hollow.”

In the world where we are both adults and we have talked about this again, I know my mother never saw the lightning strike happen.  It was winter, and no one was at the beach then.  They came next summer and the hollow was just there. But I could see it so vividly in my mind that I was certain she had for many years.

It would have been a night like this one, and maybe Aunt Nancy would have come to snuggle with her on the couch cushions.  I never could quite picture my mother with her mother, who died shortly after my mom’s marriage and whom I never knew.  And Grampy wasn’t a cuddle with the kids during a storm kind of guy.

The two of them, Kathy and Nancy, would be watching the storm, tucked under one of Juanita’s afghans, and the lightening would bolt down from the sky.  There would be a huge cracking sound as the electricity hit the rock, sparks flying, the rock burning for a time before the rain put the flames out.  And in the morning was our sink, too hot to touch for weeks.

We were outside time in that moment, those two girls and my sister and I. Parallel. Same house, same sky, same blanket, even to some extent the same sisterly love.  I have had so many Maine moments that run parallel that perhaps I can be excused for believing in this one for so long.

I still live in California, where I grew up.  Despite what they tell you, there is history there.  It just isn’t your history.  I live next to an orange grove that was planted and picked by someone else forever ago, to my south an irrigation ditch dug in the 1820s by local rancheros.  The local church has done a Las Posadas every Christmas for a hundred years, the 4th Of July Band plays Sousa all summer long, and the epithet “without vision a people perish” has presided over concerts in the park since the 1920s.  I can even visit Teddy Roosevelt’s chair at the Mission Inn, if I want to.  The tradition is there, but it doesn’t pull in the same way.  It doesn’t belong.

History in Maine is rooted, sweeping you into the past like the rolling of the clouds over the ocean, dropping rain sheets of the lives of others over your modern veneer.  In a moment it doesn’t matter what year you are in, and time moves in a circle like it does in theoretical physics.  You are tangled with the generations before you, whether you like it or not.  Mostly it’s comforting, that sense of being both outside of time and inside a memory.  In Maine, history means it.

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Jetplanes and Laundry

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Tomorrow is The Plane Trip.  It is capitalized because it has become an entity of it’s own.  How will the baby fare?  No one knows.   I have planned for every eventuality I could – plenty of bottles for him to suck on during take off and landing, Earplanes so he doesn’t have to suck on anything to be fine, crystallized ginger and Seabands in case it turns out that he’s like his mother (I get violently ill on planes without mass quantities of Dramamine), an entire toddler-sized backpack full of new toys in case it turns out he won’t sleep on the red eye… I’m as prepared as I can be.  And now it just looms, out there, waiting for a verdict.

One of the things I’ve been working on in my personal life is not to overwhelm myself.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had as long a to-do list as I had today.  The baby was not pleased.  He’s used to being able to bring me a book, snuggle up in my lap, and insist that I repeat the whole thing four times.  He’s used to dragging me into the guest room where I play him an improvised “Baby Beluga” on the keyboard as he bangs along on the low keys.  He’s used to a playmate.  And regular meal and snack times.

But Mom had two giant suitcases to pack, four loads of laundry, and massive house organization to get through.  Which meant he was relegated to the periphery, entertaining himself.  Not the best for general morale, but even amid the crankiness there were moments.

Like this one:

I transferred laundry from the washer to the dryer.  Behind me, the boy skittered out of his room and down the hallway, disappearing into my bedroom while doing his silly dance-run and yelling “Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah!” And then two seconds later, he ran back the other direction into his room again, yelling and swaggering the whole way.  Back and forth, back and forth, yelling only as he passed through the hall, knees flying.

The absurdity of motherhood is my favorite part.

So now we go on a Great Plane Adventure, and see what happens.  If nothing else, at least we’ll have that verdict.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a little writing time on this vacation.  Don’t laugh, it could work out.

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Filling Up Soon

Before the actual blog entry, I just wanted to remind everyone that Blue Gentian is officially $0.99 as of yesterday.  Go get ’em! 

I have started a blog entry about ten times in the last two weeks, and always feel like it isn’t fancy enough.  You know, not up to my regular standards of pretty language and interesting anecdotes.  I almost scrapped this one, too. Most of my stories now involve small boys who say “EIEIO” to all questions, or losing a small shoe at the local diner.  And the truth is that I don’t even have the energy to turn those things into something more interesting than they are.

I don’t know why this semester has felt so terribly draining.  I wrote a paper last night that I’m very proud of, but it has never taken me 4 1/2 hours to write a five page paper since I was an undergrad.  I feel like I’m probably losing my touch.  The days when I used to regularly crank out seven papers a week are too far behind me to be helpful.  (On second thought, maybe I should be glad about that…)

I’m also feeling demoralized about student teaching, and my lack of classroom management.  I had a breakthrough realization, though, that procedures aren’t actually for the students.  They are for me – so that I have a clear line on what is being done when and I don’t have to sit in class and think to myself “is that offense bad enough?  But I haven’t warned them…  Maybe I should just let it go?  Or…?  If it gets worse I’ll definitely address it.  But how much worse…?”   If I have a policy, I don’t have doubts.

See?  Demoralization and exhaustion are not the fodder of a good blog entry.   And the above is deceptive.  Professionally I might be demoralized, but I spent a full half-hour yesterday throwing my son into a pile of pillows while he shrieked with glee, and unhappiness in the face of that is basically impossible.  Not to mention, I am flying to the home of my forefathers next week. Maine, land of mosquitoes and white sand beaches, where everyone takes their ice cream VERY seriously, and it is possible to eat one’s weight in lobster and/or clam chowder.  Which, believe it or not, is all secondary to how much I’m looking forward to seeing my dozens of cousins.

My cup has been poured out, but it’s getting filled soon.  I really can’t wait.

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Happy Birthday to Me (and you…)

It’s my birthday next week, and I’ll be thirty seven years old.  Hurrah?  I guess?  I’m at the point where I understand my father’s disinterest in birthdays.  My most anticipated birthday gift is the one where I get to watch the baby’s face when Brian and I take him to the Teppan grill near our house.  I’m planning on spending any birthday money I receive on some reviews for Blue Gentian via either Netgalley or a blog tour.  (And maybe get a pedicure in prep for that vacation…)

Speaking of Blue Gentian… I’m going to do the thing where you bring everyone cupcakes on your birthday.  And by cupcakes, I mean discounted books.  Blue Gentian will run for $0.99 from June 2 to June 9.  If you haven’t picked up a copy and are interested, here is your chance to read good stuff for cheap.

Happy reading!

 

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That Was Fast…

Well, student teaching was over much faster than expected. I’ve talked this to death, but basically there was a huge tragedy in the family of the teacher who was supposed to be supervising me. In the interests of giving everyone a little space – her to grieve and me to complete the million assessments they’re requiring of me during student teaching – we’re calling it a day. I’ll do fifteen weeks next semester instead of five this semester and ten next.

So, this is basically to say that I find myself with unexpected time.

I’m using it to get re-caught up in my classes. And then I’m making a big Easterbay push.

I haven’t talked much about how Easterbay is going, because it’s a weird thing. I have been told that second books are particular beasts that seem never to behave. I’ve been told it’s because you finish the first book because you do – your overwhelming desire to be an author, or to exorcise your inner demons, perhaps just sheer stubbornness – but that second book is something you need a writing process to finish. And here is where you get one, trial by fire. I think I’ve managed that piece.

The piece I haven’t quite managed is the one where I finish the book. Every time get to the end and I think I have it figured out, something happens and it turns out that I don’t. The beginning of the book is shaping up nicely. It has a few characterization problems, but altogether it’s flowing and making sense. And then it just stops. I need to just write it, but therein lies the problem. How do you write something you don’t know?

Anyway, that’s what I intend to spend the summer on. I’ll wrench the ending of this thing out of me somehow, edit up the rest, and hopefully be in Beta reads by the end of July. That goal feels especially attainable now that I’ve gained three weeks of my time back.

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